Kelbe Photography

Life In A Blink Of An Eye

Unfortunate Beginnings

A broken arm is a painful thing. Not painful unbearable (but a bit of that too) but painfully inconvenient. It requires patience and rest but we were aware of time ticking and we would be up and on our way. As a result, 2 week after the injury, with Dudlley champing at the bit to get going, and armed with an unwieldy and heavy plaster cast and a bucket full of analgesics worthy of a drug trafficking charge, we hit the road.

Although the plan was to proceed to Zambia with as little delay as possible we still rode our favorite route north via Pongola. The road was clogged with trucks but on the only stretch of road where overtaking seemed to be safe or prudent we were stung for crossing a white line. Clearly the view of the road was unobstructed and safe but equally clearly it was a solid white line and therefore illegal. Dudley was incensed and leapt out of the the car to do moral and verbal battle with the traffic cop. I can see you all grimacing at this picture as it predicts a one way trip to the largest fine imposable and sure enough, after much heated debate, we drove off with an IOU for R2000.00. Nerves frayed and temper simmering we continued towards Piet Retief only to find that Dudleys drivers license was missing. Still in persecution mode he was convinced the traffic cop had kept it and we swung around to track him but with no luck. We found a mate of his who radioed him and told us he did not have it. We combed the verge of the road where we got our fine and still no joy. Eventually , sobered by the fact that we could not cross borders without a license, we drove back to the licensing department in Piet Retief to commence the lengthy process of applying for a new and temporary license. And so our first day back was something of a disaster and equally a reminder of the travelers code number 1: keep your temper in check and your sense of humor close by and well oiled!.

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2 days later Dudleys license fell out of his sun visor!

We were tense and exhausted after this traumatic interlude and it became therapeutic to slow down and  follow the flow. Getting in and out of the rooftop tent slowly became less anxiety filled and we found ourselves at a small park just on the edge of Tuli block in Botswana called Goo-Moremi




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Goo -Moremi is a community camp run by a Pedi tribe who retreated here from Limpopo under tribal conflict. The gorge has a series of beautiful waterfalls which have become the repository of the ancestral spirits. Although they have moved their village, the remains of the original settlements are dotted around the landscape and so a gentle walk acts as a historical tour as well as a nature ramble. There are buck and birds a plenty and for the energetic, a trek to the top of the gorge. It is a great transit camp and a much better proposition for the area than Francistown. After a gentle walk we felt ourselves once more bonding with the bush and decided, as it was so beautiful, to explore a little more Tuli magic before we moved on.


Tuli is somewhere we have heard of but never been. Vague recollections of some problem with elephants and the site of Mashatu, one of the reserves with the best photographic hides ,purpose built, but also out of our price league. It is in Mashatu that Greg du Toit won  wildlife photographer of the year 2013  with the blue elephants. 


The Tuli block is actually a very narrow strip of land along the Limpopo River border with South Africa. The northern Tuli block is indeed the domaine of luxury lodges, especially fly in, and has no self drive but there are many farms which have dropped their fences adjacent to this to make a long thin strip where the game roams freely and, lucky for us, one or two allow for self drive and/ or camping.


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We started in Molema bush camp, directed there by T4A . This borders the exclusive northern Tuli block and is one of 3 concessions run by a community from a nearby village. It has 4 simple wooden chalets and 5 camp spots under magnificent nyala trees on the banks of the Limpopo. The river was not running but there are big pools dotted along its course with crocs and plenty of birds. The impala, zebra and steenbok graze there in the afternoons and apparently there are hippo down stream. The cry of the fish eagle is a constant companion and the camp is visited by a succession of little visitors including our first pukka bush pig. An efficient waste disposal system as he snuffled through the leaves. Unfortunately there is no self drive so although reasonable for accommodation there is an additional expense of a guided drive or walk. Still. At P 240 pp it is affordable. We were taken to eagle rock. We drove there through the reserve. A dry mopanI bushveld with evidence of elephant activity and with scattered stony koppies typical of Tuli, very beautiful. After a bumpy journey and spotting elephant and kudu we arrived at a rocky plain under a dominating cliff and walked to the top guided by Jerry. The views over the dry river were breathtaking. There was a black eagles nest, empty now as the baboon ate the last chicks last season.  In wet season many animals gather in the river bed and this  perch allows impressive aerial photography.



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Our next excursion was to a hyena den. Hyena prints were all around the reserve including in and around camp. The front foot is bigger and the clawed imprint soon became very familiar to us. En route we drove past a bank pitted with holes and a cloud of white fronted bee eaters flew into the nearby trees. We finally stopped by a small koppie to walk on a narrow track until an inquisitive pair of eyes greeted us around a rock. It was a young hyena about 6 months old and 2 smaller litter mates. They were interested and came close, testing my walking stick with their teeth. They had red staining on the fur presumably from breakfast. Hopefully mum was asleep after a hard nights work. We crept away before she awoke to investigate.


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Next day we moved on to Limpopo River Lodge about 25 km west. This reserve is a narrow finger bordering the Limpopo and one of the few places you can self drive in this area. It has beautiful camp sites on the banks of the Limpopo and a small lodge with chalets further down river. They have put in many dams on the property which attract the game. We camped under leadwood trees for 4 nights and wandered the reserve by day. The kudu were fabulous and elephants numerous. Impala, wildebeests, zebra and steenbok were easily spotted.







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The zebra were very nervous, starting and stampeding at the slightest noise or twitch One hole called Motswiri was accessible for the remote camera and we had a couple of hair raising close calls with the eles and the camera. Dudley was running around to fetch the camera under the nose of the oncoming elephants.  Another waterhole called Tlou was a concrete bowl much loved by the eles who would climb in and crowd it like a bowl of fruit. One early morning there was also a herd of cows which the eles did not like and chased by spraying them with water. Dust, cows and elephants, magic! We had a ball and will definitely be back again. This is another excellent interlude as you travel up into Botswana and there are multiple small border crossings east of Martins Drift which give easy access , at least in the dry season.


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As we finally meandered out of Tuli we were able to drive an access road through Mashatu to Solomons wall, a natural granite dyke in the dry river bed. After this taste of Tuli Mashatu is definitely on our bucket list.

Hunters Road



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The strip of land all along the Zimbabwean border of Botswana is known as Hunter's Road. Hunter's Road was the name given to a wagon road that was used extensively in the latter half of the 19th century to move trade goods from South Africa to the banks of the Zambezi River at Kazungula. Livingstone was the first European to see Victoria falls in 1855. He was duly impressed and advertised the incredible spectacle widely. In 1871 traders Westbeach and Phillips arrived in Victoria falls and were granted permission to hunt north of the Zambezi. Westbeach established and maintained Hunters Road and used it for trading ivory. At the turn of the last century, explorers, hunters and traders all made tracks towards the Falls. Hunters road remained their highway.  The current Hunters Road starts just outside Francistown and ends at Kasane. It is a rough sandy track  with many waterholes on the road and a reputation for good wildlife sightings and is contiguous with Hwange.  It is also a poaching hotspot and is patrolled by the military. We were told to enter above Nata because of this. In retrospect we should have started at the beginning but maybe next time. It is a seasonal road and, although it is said to be hard going in the wet season, we were safely in dry season and anticipated few problems.


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We drove through Nata and spotted a group of vultures on the ground just outside. We slowed to investigate and found them pecking on the carcass of a dead donkey. It made for the best vulture photography of the trip so far as they flew when the loud trucks rumbled by and then returned and squabbled. A donkey cart drove by and the donkeys reacted very skittish and distressed, pulling on the chases and braying loudly. Clearly they knew it was one of their own.

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We  spent the night at Elephant Sands, always a favored stop over, and it did not disappoint. As we drove in the elephants were swarming the water hole and during our whole stay there were never long periods without them splashing and trumpeting  They have increased the number of tented chalets around the waterhole. It was busy and clearly successful which was good to see but the eles walk through the camp and between the tents with no hesitation. There are plenty of opportunities for elephant human confrontation and I fear there is an accident waiting to happen. Anyway none the worse for wear we left for Hunters Road early next day.


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Hunters road is quite wild as the border is not fenced. No one lives there although it passes through some community and lodge concessions, and you feel right in the wilds. The road started as hard sand but there were rocky intervals especially north of Pandamatenga and some really soft sand as well so the going is slow. There are patches of cotton soil which will become challenging mud with the rain. We passed many pans and waterholes but mostly dry as expected. We met a group of guys from Pandamatenga who had seen wild dog but we were not lucky there. We did see herds of sable and plenty  of elephants and kudu and beautiful birds. We met no other cars or travelers.


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We broke our trip at Panda rest camp and slipped down the road to an old quarry first thing in the morning for a spot of birding  at Hugh Chittendens recommendation. We saw a lot of birds and there were definite lion tracks. At one point we heard huffing and it sounded like lion quite close. Later we bumped into an ecolodge ranger as we returned to Hunters Road  and he told us that there is a pack of 7 lions at the quarry. It pays to keep your eyes open!! 


The remainder of Hunters Road went smoothly. We found water in the pan at Kazuma and a dead elephant carcass with vultures and a skulking jackal. We enjoyed Hunters Road but I think it could be even better with a little more water in the pans. We rolled into Kasane in late afternoon and headed for a recommended camp at Senyati.

Senyati And The Elephants

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It
has long been recognized that elephant pictures gain a lot of impact if they are taken low down as this perspective better captures their height and majesty. This meant that tricks like dropping the camera down from the car window or lying under the car were employed to better achieve this. After 2013, when Greg du Toit won his BBC wildlife photographer of the year with the elephant picture taken at Mashatu, the idea of specially designed and sunken hides to increase the opportunities for this view point became more popular. Most of these hides are in exclusive lodges and charge by the hour but here in Senyati we found a version which came with the camp site. A bit rough and ready but still. They have excavated a bunker from the bar right up to the edge of the waterhole and as the fresh water enters the waterhole right there the elephants cluster and jostle in front of the hide all day. Bonus. They estimate up to 400 elephants a day pass through.



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Senyati was busy and it was double the cost of anywhere else we had stayed but the camp spots are well spaced and each has a covered verandah and personal bathroom and there are shrubs and flowers planted in old tyres between. So it is busy because it has a well earned reputation I think. The bar is eclectically decorated and they water the grass in front for the buffalo. The elephant hide is the prize though and this is emphasized by the number of professional guides we encountered bringing their clients there. The waterhole is an event in its own right. There is no need to go anywhere else and  we spent a day and a half snoozing on a couch and rushing down the bunker every time an ele herd appeared with wide angle lenses at the ready. Although we had the usual cock ups it led to some impressive pictures.


Every night  the pearl spotted owl called and the southern boubou sang in the morning. We met a group from Joburg and two of them were firm fans of Zambia having been there frequently for 30 years ( ex Zimbos) Their enthusiasm fired us up and we turned our noses to Kazengula and the ferry to Zambia